On Rebuilding, Part 7: The Columbus Blue Jackets

Former captain Rick Nash (5of7/Wikimedia Commons)

Frequent commenter and guest contributor RexLibris’ series on rebuilds continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Script

  • The Blue Jackets have been rebuilding since the day they joined the league and are an example of how drafting in the top ten is a crapshoot.
  • They have never shown that building through the draft is a reasonable strategy.
  • The Blue Jackets are the perfect counter-point to the Penguins, for every successful rebuild like the Blackhawks and Penguins I can point to the Isles and Blue Jackets.

I think these are all reasonable approximations of the many statements recently surrounding the build-turned-rebuild in Columbus. So how do they stack up against the history of the organization?

This Time We’ll Get It Right

When the Blue Jackets first entered the league they deliberately chose to ride the wave of enthusiasm for NHL hockey in their market while waiting out a period of poor seasons and subsequently high draft picks. Altogether this would be considered, generally, a wise move. There are few options for expansion clubs as most leagues engineer terms that deliberately impoverish new franchises in favour of the established clubs. Doug MacLean was at the helm of the team from its inception and under his guidance the team was profitable, though hardly competitive. While the overall course was probably the best option available at the time, the individuals undertaking the venture were not up to the task.

Since joining the league in 2000 the Blue Jackets have had eleven first round picks over twelve years (2011 being the exception in the Carter deal).

Those picks go in the following order, beginning in 2000: 4th overall (Rostislav Klesla), 8th (Pascal Leclaire), 1st (Rick Nash), 4th (Nikolai Zherdev), 8th (Alexandre Picard), 6th (Gilbert Brule), 6th (Derick Brassard), 7th (Jakub Voracek), 6th (Nikita Filatov), 21st (John Moore), 4th (Ryan Johansen), and finally 2nd (Ryan Murray) overall this June. Only once in the twelve year history of the team have they drafted outside of the top ten (Moore, 2009) and yet, of those listed who have played at least 200 NHL games, and excluding Rick Nash, the most successful player by points accumulated is Nikolai Zherdev. He played only four seasons with the Blue Jackets and has been essentially washed out of the league. As well, of those players drafted only three are still with the team.

In the expansion draft the Blue Jackets acquired Dwayne Roloson, Mathieu Schneider, Lyle Odelein, Geoff Sanderson, and Dallas Drake, amongst others. Of those named, only Sanderson would end up playing for the team. Many of the players left the Blue Jackets by any means necessary, Roloson even signed with an AHL team rather than play in Columbus.

Through the expansion draft and the subsequent first few amateur drafts the Blue Jackets were only able to amass Rostislav Klesla, Geoff Sanderson, and Rick Nash. Despite their favourable draft position the Blue Jackets were never able to capitalize and their draft record reads like a textbook on missed opportunity.

Oh-Hio

Columbus does have a hockey playing culture and a degree of a built-in fan base. The Blue Jackets were not in the same situation as other expansion teams of the same era as in Nashville or Atlanta where the team needed to develop a competitive team and a fan base simultaneously. Like Minnesota they had a honeymoon period of sorts during which they could perform poorly while still receiving a modicum of local enthusiasm and support. The ownership of the Blue Jackets, unlike some of their expansion-era cousins, has been stable under John McConnell. Despite being a money-losing venture, the Blue Jackets have not traditionally been a team lacking for funds.

Sergei Fedorov with Washington (Ivanmakarov/Wikimedia Commons)

At some point the Blue Jackets began drafting high in spite of their efforts, rather than because of them. There are two watershed moments where Doug MacLean attempted to take the team from being a bottom-dwelling roster to a competitive squad. The first would be his signing of free-agent Todd Marchant to a five-year deal in July of 2004. The second would be his trading Tyler Wright and Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Sergei Fedorov on November 15th, 2005. Marchant was later waived and Anaheim would add him as well. By February of 2008 the Blue Jackets would trade Fedorov to the Capitals for the rights to Theo Ruth. MacLean’s moves were made to improve the team immediately, and while he did not do this at the expense of draft picks, it was an act of a team looking to purchase talent when developing it had proven fruitless.

By the end of the lockout the Blue Jackets had exhausted any leeway the fan base might have lent them and both the team, and MacLean, was operating on borrowed time.

Following the lockout MacLean tried again to raise his team above the masses in order to make the playoffs. Unfortunately many of his moves appear frantic and seem, at times, counter-indicative. New coaches were hired, and then replaced, with no sustained improvement shown. Underperforming or disappointing players were moved in exchange for other team’s stagnating projects. The team tried to sign free agents in order to fill holes in the roster, assigning dollar amounts and roles to players which outstripped their abilities.

The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice and Men

The Blue Jackets tried to build appropriately, through the draft. Even trading up to select Rick Nash 1st overall. Unfortunately, for all that effort their scouting services could not deliver on their draft position. Famously, when needing a center for the franchise star in Nash, MacLean and his scouts went with Gilbert Brule 6th overall rather than select Anze Kopitar, who would fall to the Kings at 11th overall. While the Blue Jackets’ draft record shows a consistency of players selected having spent time in the NHL, this is a product of a shallow roster, a bad team, and a poorly executed development system.

Currently, the new General Manager, Scott Howson, is attempting, once again, to rebuild the franchise. There are few areas within the Blue Jackets’ organization that are not in need of significant improvement. Hockey’s Future currently ranks the Blue Jackets 11th in overall prospect depth and quality. Given their traditional reluctance to trade away high-end draft picks and their perennially low finishes in the standings this speaks volumes as to their draft record. Looking over the team’s roster and prospects it is hard not to imagine that they will continue to have a presence in the top ten of the draft over the next year or two.

The Blue Jackets are another example of a failed franchise. Their failure is not indicative of all rebuilds, nor should it be discounted out of hand when considering the dangers of the draft. However, it does serve as a reminder that pursuing talent through the draft is incumbent on one significant factor: good scouting. The Blue Jackets needed to convert even two more of their top ten draft picks over the last eight years into more significant players. That failure has haunted the team and created the conditions for their current situation. While I’m not a proponent of the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” game when it comes to draft reviews, had the Blue Jackets so much as flipped a coin between the prospect they chose and the next closest candidate they likely would have had more success.

In review:

The Blue Jackets have been rebuilding since the day they joined the league and are an example of how drafting in the top ten is a crapshoot – A valid point, but as much as the Penguins are an example of everything breaking right, the Blue Jackets sit on the opposite end of the spectrum. Even this April at the draft lottery, they couldn’t win for losing as the Oilers won the draft lottery. When scouting works, the draft looks like a goldmine. When it doesn’t, beware.

They have never shown that building through the draft is a reasonable strategy – This only stands up if one considers that the argument for building through the draft needs to be vindicated by this one team. The flip-side of this argument is that Detroit has shown that you can build a team of superstars by drafting solely in the 5th round and later. Does that logic sound any more reasonable? Like anything, the effectiveness of a tool (in this case, drafting) depends on the ability of those wielding it. When scouting works,…

The Blue Jackets are the perfect counter-point to the Penguins, for every successful rebuild like the Blackhawks and Penguins I can point to the Isles and Blue Jackets – True. I’m not going to argue that. The trick is in getting it right. If the Blue Jackets had drafted Kopitar, if Roloson has stayed with the organization and lent them his many years of useful service, if Filatov hadn’t bolted for Russia…There are no guarantees in drafting, but look at what the Blue Jackets were faced with and the many other expansion teams vying for improvement. Consider the options and eliminate the bias of hindsight and it is hard to argue with their initial course of action. Unfortunately, once things began to go wrong management sought a course correction and it resulted in a series of poor decisions magnified by sub-standard drafting.

Never the Windshield, Always the Bug

The Blue Jackets are a Hank Williams song of a franchise. They can’t win for losing, all their dreams are turned to dust, now the dog is dead, the cat’s coughing hairballs, and the wife has run away. The team has changed captains, coaches and GMs, all to no avail. They’ve been down so long it probably is beginning to look like up. Even the prospects are generating a cynical kind of “we’ve seen this show before” buzz amongst the fan base. Perhaps the most damning thing someone could say about the Blue Jackets is that they inspire neither hatred nor envy in fans of any other NHL team. They have become something of a non-factor.

While it was a relatively short trip to get to where the team is today (twelve years is not that long a time for a franchise in the NHL), with the past history that haunts this team it could be a long, dusty road back from purgatory.

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Columbus is a fine example of there being too many teams in the league and not enough talent to go around.

    Doug MacLean is a hockey God, not his fault the league oversold franchises.

    • RexLibris

      Too true, but who else were they going to get to run the team. Wait, you were talking about a shallow depth of PLAYERS? Oops.

      MacLean is a pretty informed hockey person. However, that information becomes opinion and too often he seemed to let his opinion take over. Granted, he probably knows more about, and has absolutely done more in, hockey than I ever will. However, if I were starting a franchise tomorrow, I wouldn’t call him for directions to the rink.

      Hubris and Nemesis and all that.

    • loudogYYC

      Ken Holland is a hockey God. Any team in the NHL would pay huge money to employ him. Doug Maclean hasn’t worked for any pro hockey team for over 5 years.

      You’re from Edmonton, yes?

  • book¡e

    Ok, if RexLibris wrote this, why is JW’s name at the top (I know why this happens from a technical standpoint, but ON needs to have a mechanism so that JW and other ON staff can post a guest column with the correct name on it).

    • RexLibris

      Last time the Oilers traded with them it was Raffi Torres for Gilbert Brule and all us fans thought we were winning that trade. Hemsky to Columbus is a standby rumour for other websites. Howson isn’t desperate enough to give the Oilers what they want from that team (Johansen, Murray).

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Players drafted shortly after Columbus picks:

    2001: taken – Pascal Leclaire; after – Dan Hamhuis, Ales Hemsky, Tuomo Ruutu.

    2002: taken – Rick Nash – okay that was a good one, albeit no-brainer.

    2003: taken – Nik Zherdev; after – Vanek, Milan Michalek, Ryan Suter & just about everyone else in the 1st round of that 2003 amazing class.

    2004: taken – Alex Picard; after – Stafford, Radulov, Zajac, Meszaros.

    2005: taken – Gilbert Brule; after – Setoguchi, Kopitar, Marc Staal, Hanzal, Oshie

    2006: taken – Brassard; after – Okposo, Jon Bernier, Grabner, Giroux

    2007: taken – Voracek; after – Couture, McDonagh.

    2008: taken – Filatov; after – Boedker, Bailey, Hodgson, Erik Karlsson, Del Zotto, Eberle.

    Wow – that’s almost as bad as Calgary’s draft history.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        too funny. I’m actually a flames fan. This was posted on FN as well. I with Kent am woefullly aware of Flames draft history.

        @ Rex. I agree hindsight can be 20/20, but it seems like they missed EVERY year but Nash. And to miss in 03 when neary everyone drafted in the 1st round is now an impact player – yeesh. Just terrible luck, scouting, who knows.

        • RexLibris

          2003 is becoming something of a myth on the interwebs, though. Looking it over again, there were more than a few misses. Granted, a cup-challenging team could have been assembled out of the first 50 selections alone, but looking at some of the other 1st round miscalculations takes some shine off the group. Zherdev at 4, of course, but also Jessiman at 12 (Tom Renney’s suggestion when he was a scout), Robert Nilsson at 15, Eric Fehr at 18, Mark Stuart at 21, Jeff Tambellini at 27, and Shawn Belle at 30, to name a few.

          I think the Oilers had a bad pick in there too. Something about trading down, if I recall correctly. 😉

          What I took away from the Columbus piece is that they are too often held up as an example, alongside the Islanders, of how drafting high can ruin a team. This is a post-hoc fallacy and one that I have found often here from those who have attacked, specifically, the Oilers’ rebuild but who also lobby heavily for the Flames to avoid at all costs a similar strategy.

          Columbus was bad. Drafted high. They drafted poorly and the players, for the most part, didn’t turn out. Therefore drafting high is a path to ruin. We know this to be false, and yet the argument continues to crop up that fans don’t want their team to position themselves to draft high out of some belief that it will cast them permanently into the abyss of the NHL.

          Amongst 30 teams there will always be an example of the dangers inherent in some course of action. What I wanted to get across in the end was that reason and a certain level of context be taken into account when comparing teams whose only real similarity is a place in the standings.

          Sorry, that was a bit of a rant, but I think I was due for one. 😉

          • DSF

            Assuming that the draft is a good way to rebuild a team because Pittsburgh and Chicago were successful is no less a “post hoc fallacy”.

            Philly fell out of contention and “re-built” in one off season.

            Dale Tallon took his team from last to the playoffs in one offseason by acquiring a large number of experienced vets to compliment his remarkable prospect pool.

            Likely the most contrasting attempts at a rebuild are between the Leafs and Oilers.

            It is amazing how similar the teams are in strengths and weaknesses despite a diametrically opposed approach to rebuilding.

            So, far, Burke has a slight advantage.

          • Wax Man Riley

            A draft is definitely one way to build your team. For a small-market, northern city like Edmonton, it definitely is a good way to build a team.

            I’m in no way defending Tambellini, he is terrible. I am defending the challenges that a team in a city like Edmonton has.

            Given the choice, where are you going in the off season, DSF? Florida, New York, Philly, or Edmonton.

            I have 3 guesses, and none of them are Edmonton.

            Slight edge to Toronto? You can cheer for your beloved leafs that haven’t seen a playoff game since before The Oilers were in game 7, but I would take Oilers current roster over teh terrible Leafs all day long.

          • Wax Man Riley

            Further to my above post, the draft was a great way for Edmonton to build a team. An extremely loyal (to a fault) fan base that will endure years of missing the playoffs i norder to secure top-flight players for 7-10 years. Those players are not coming here in free agency.

            After the 2006 exodus, Edmonton was #29 in the league to play for. Market, city, team, management, record…. who would want to be in Edmonton? Begin a culture of winning, and those players are more likely to come.

          • The Last Big Bear

            You were making sense right up until the end, where you mentioned a culture of winninwhen a sentence apparently talking about Edmonton.

            Lose games, suck, draft high.
            Lose tons of games, suck all year, draft high.
            Lose tons of games, suck, be the worst team in the NHL, draft 1st.
            Lose the most games, suck, be the worst team in the NHL, draft 1st.
            Lose tons of games, suck, be the 2nd worst team in the NHL, draft 1st.

            Stop me when I get to the part where they’re building a culture of winning…

            Good luck building a culture of winning on a team consisting of teenagers who have done nothing but lose since the day they hit the big show. Where the fans are fine with losing, and management says that losing is the plan.

            In fact, in my opinion, this is the biggest flaw (hopefully a fatal one) in The Operation Project Plan of Epic Proportions; the fact that it almost seems designed to instill a culture of losing.

          • supra steve

            As a Flames fan, I would say you are not paying attention to history. There is (in my opinion) a well established record of teams sucking hard for a prolonged period, drafting/developing well, then winning it all.

            NYI way back in the day.

            Edm dito.

            Pitt, Mario era.

            Que/Col

            Det

            NJ

            Pitt, Crosby era.

            Chi

            LA

            Also a record of teams sucking, drafting/developing poorly, and continuing to suck.

            CBJ

            NYI

            etc.

            I’m betting the Oil climb out of the abyss soon. That’s the same abyss the Flames are currently spiralling down.

          • RexLibris

            A few months ago I plotted out the drafting position of the ten teams I am covering in this series as well as Detroit and Philadelphia from 1995 to the present.

            What I saw was that, for a slight majority of teams the harder they fell, the more quickly they rose, while a select few were able to avoid the fall (Detroit) and others overcame substandard play (L.A.) the most dominant theme was one of hitting the ground hard before jumping back up.

            The two outliers were Columbus and the Isles, but I have covered them already.

            One other thing that I noticed was that a propensity to trade away 1st round picks almost always resulted in a failure to advance in the long-term. That would be the Leafs.

          • supra steve

            Grabbing a Leaf’s first rounder in a trade is never a bad idea. Amazing how they make/spend so much $$ but are unable to ice a winner. Also amazing how we didn’t get one for Dion.

            Their fate is pretty much what I want the Flames to avoid. Jay, throw in the towel. Today. Your current team will not be tweaked into being a winner. Shed yourself of yesterday’s stars and put all your chips into high draft picks and young high end prospects.

            I keep hearing the “no guarantee” on your young return argument about trading Iggy/Kipper. What I want to do is redeem the “guarantee” that we have on the current bunch. Oh crap, just realized, that guarantee has expired.

            PS. Great work on this series Rex, has helped fill the void over the summer months.

          • RexLibris

            Thanks. It has been a blast. Three more to go.

            The only question I have about the Flames future is whether the ownership group (and I’m including Ken King in there as well) will be honest enough with themselves when the bottom does fall out. I suspect that this season, if it starts more or less on time, will be that year. If not, then perhaps next season, but either way the time is at hand for this team.

            Were I a Flames fan (knock on wood) I would probably start preparing myself for being underwhelmed at whatever trade return the team might get for Iginla or Kiprusoff, in the event they are moved, and focus on the drafting record going into the decline that would inevitably follow. Because that is where, if chosen properly, the true return on the departure of Iginla will come, indirectly.

            The time to go all in for the draft, from a Flames perspective, would be this year’s crop. Were I running the show, I would be trying to position myself to get two picks in the top ten, one by virtue of the standings, the other by trade, followed by an additional 1st round pick, regardless of position, in 2014, by virtue of another veteran trade.

            Nobody would be safe, save Baertschi.

            Feaster could have done that this past February, and hinted at it, but my sense is that ownership nixed it. Had he moved even two of the expiring UFAs for picks, even 2nd round picks, in 2014, the Flames would be in such a better position.

            Take this scenario as an example: the Oilers are likely to finish somewhere in the bottom ten teams in the league (THN has them finishing 13th in the West). Should they be drafting somewhere around 10th overall, they could then offer their own pick, plus one or both of their 2013 2nd round picks to move up to, perhaps, 5th or 4th, if the team in that position has a need for quantity over quality in their development pool. At that position they could very easily be able to draft one of Curtis Lazar, Sam Reinhart, or, it could happen, Seth Jones.

            Having that flexibility and the surplus of assets to move is what the Flames need to be trying to do. When Feaster traded down this past June he wasn’t adding anything that he hadn’t already lost. It was a lateral move. I give him credit for trying to move up and take Grigorenko (I think that was why he was working the phones so furiously once the top ten were taken), but in the end he only acquired what he had already sold short in the Kotalik deal.

            Let me put it this way, had Feaster kept his 2nd round pick in 2012 (or 2013 for that matter) perhaps he would have been able to move from 14th to 11th and taken Grigorenko. Instead, because he mishandled the Kotalik deal (more on that in the Flames rebuild article) he had to move down and take a significant risk on a long-term project that might not fit the rest of the Flames prospect profile.

            Anyway, here I am ranting again. Sorry, and thanks again. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say on the rest of the articles.

          • RexLibris

            Good job Rex! Your posts & articles are always well thought out & its a pleasure to have your interest in our 2 Alberta hockey teams.

            I think one thing you may be putting the blinders to when discussing these rebuilds is that now the Oilers finally have some great young assets that are finally shining some light at the end of a a long long dark tunnel. You are saying its not so bad & perhaps neccessary. Ask Penguin or Blackhawk season ticket holders & fans how much they want to go through a complete bottom of the barrell rebuild again anytime soon. They will tell you to avoid that at all costs. A losing team will lose the mediocre fairweather fans in most markets. Oiler fans have really weathered this run of 30/30/29 quite well. Now that you are pulling yourselves out of the smoldering pile of dung, suddenly you are making it out that the dung didnt smell that bad now & everyone should flipflop in it. I must say, it is quite a rarity to see the management of a professional team in a cap league that has a mandate to provide parity to all the markets in the league, go the direction as the Oilers have in these recent years. Kudos to the fans of the Oilers, there are not too many “small market” teams that could have survived a determined full scale rebuild the Oil have done. Possibly why the NYI, Floridas, Columbus teams are where they are today. It’s easy to criticize Burke for the Kessell deal but understandable given the want to get back to winning hockey games again & they saw Kessell as that future immediate franchise player the Oilers just recently signed Hall as. 3 years from now when Oil fans get a taste of winning again, ask how many would do this again. The thought of Calgary having years of no meaningful games after December is like looking forward to acid reflux.

          • RexLibris

            I think most Flames fans, at least the ones I’ve talked with, have been reluctant because of the Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder relating to the Young Guns era.

            I’m with you though. I watched guys like David Oliver and Donald Dufresne come and go. What’s one more rebuild, so long as it is done right.

          • RexLibris

            The only year that I would erase from history was the 2009-2010 season. Right up until the trade deadline was a disaster. Having to watch Patrick O’Sullivan (really hope he gets it together someday, but glad he has moved on), Robert Nilsson, and Ethan Moreau spiral their way through that awful season was worth time served x2 in purgatory.

            This is something Jonathan Willis wrote a short while back and it encapsulates what I have been trying to say for awhile, that is, that some teams have the capacity, the fan capital so to speak, to spend on being bad in order to be good. Others are not afforded this luxury. It is one of the only ways in which the landscape slopes irrevocably in favour of the more rabid Canadian markets.

            “7. The only reason the Oilers can rebuild the way they have is thanks to the fans. This should be obvious. If, at the end of the day, the Oilers rebuild succeeds in creating an elite team, it will be thanks to the loyalty of fans, who have continued to pay good money year after year to watch a terrible NHL team. In other markets, a drop in attendance (and consequently a drop in revenue) would have forced a shorter rebuild.” http://oilersnation.com/2012/8/15/ten-points-roster-decisions-the-magic-bullet-and-the-oilers-as-a-small-market-club

            My criticism of Burke comes partially from the point of view that I truly believe if he had the stones he could have told the media and the fan base to suck it up and draft high for a few years. Instead, he had to act as though he were smarter than everyone before him, as though the college free agent rock hadn’t already been lifted, sifted, and signed before he found it.

            I guess you could call it intellectual honesty.

            Most Oiler fans haven’t forgotten the last three years, and most are expecting another one slightly less painful than the last. What you read shouldn’t be interpreted as being revisionist history, but rather the exultation of seeing one’s commitment, and a long string of abuse at the hands of other NHL fans, finally offering small returns.

            Rebuilds can suck unless you become a draft/prospect junkie. I am, and I’m also a fairly patient individual, so it was a lot easier for me than many friends of mine who were sick of it after a year and a half. I’ve sat through bad hockey before, at least this was intended to go somewhere.

            As for the blinders, read the Oilers article, then tell me. If you still feel that way, no problem. I’d be happy to discuss it. I worked very hard at balancing that one between my own perspective and a more critical view. I consulted with Kent in order to keep my stance on it as neutral as I could. So I really do hope that it comes through. Because in the end, I do think that the team is being well served by drafting the way they have, being patient with prospects, and allowing the talented core to grow, develop into a team, and create a longer-lasting infrastructure around which the franchise can operate for the long-term.

            Thanks for reading and commenting. Just remember, when talking to one Oilers fan, it is only one person. Just like I don’t judge all Flames fans by the raving lunatic on the LRT who smells like urine and barks like a dog. 😉

          • Marshall Law

            Rex, you have to be about the most neutral politically correct Oiler fan I have ever run into. I know you totally agree with the long thorough drafting properly rebuild. I know your analysis of the Oilers rebuild will have lots of “could have done a lot better” bits to it. I think you did touch on it in your response to me is that the market the team is in will actually dictate the degree of rebuild that a franchise will be willing to endure. That cannot be under estimated. Toronto is a bit of an irony in that there will always be the bleed white & blue Leaf fans no matter how bad they are & how long they suck for. There is just so many of them. Problem is, the GM knows his window for a rebuild is no where near the window ST has had here in Edmonton. That will impact decisions in a huge way. Do you really think that if Katz had told ST he wants to see the team challenging for a playoff spot last year different moves wouldnt have been made. I think by the time Katz stepped in, the Oil already had 2 feet on a banana peel. A lot of pride with these owners, a lot of money spent & a lot of expectations. Now I’m looking forward to your take on the Oilers rebuild.:)

          • RexLibris

            Not to ruin the ending, but essentially what I have argued about the Oilers rebuild, in my opinion, is that the team was, as you say, two feet into it but management hadn’t been given the green light to admit it. Lowe said as much recently when he said that the asked the EIG to rebuild after the Cup run.

            I give Katz full credit. He spent one year, his first as owner, trying the same old method of luring big name players (Hossa, Heatley) and when it crashed and burned he didn’t wait out the entire season. By December of 2009 when the writing was on the wall he called it off and said that the team needed to rebuild.

            Having just completed the Flames article, and in the process of researching it, I think I can fairly say that Katz’s response to his first year and a half of Oilers’ ownership is an example of intellectual honesty.

            In fact, I would be very interested in your (and others) opinion(s) on contrasting the actions of the Oilers ownership group from 2009-2010 to present relative to the mission statement/decisions of the Flames ownership and management group.

            In my opinion, Feaster and King (as extensions of Mr. Edwards’ philosophy) have spoken a great deal about an underlying approach but have been less than sincere in their undertaking of that strategy.

            While I am critical of many of the decisions and seeming ego-issues that interfered with the Oilers management from 2007 to 2010 (Smyth and Glencross contract disputes, Smid and Gagner’s accelerated promotion), I do give full credit to their eventual honesty in facing how awful a team they had created and committing themselves to the painful and ego-crushing path to fix it.

            Take a good read through the Panthers rebuild article too. I think it is an important case study for anyone who would argue that a team can be manufactured through free agency or that Dale Tallon is some sort of managerial witch-doctor.

          • RexLibris

            P.S.

            I have plenty of politically-charged opinions, they just have no bearing on this forum and it is that kind of emotional hyperbole and trash-talking that I was trying to steer away from.

            I have been known to utter such Socratic pearls as “they are the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked!”.

            But thanks anyway, at least I know that I’m managing some appearance of impartiality. 😉

          • RexLibris

            It could be argued that the culture of winning comes around, just as it did in Detroit so many years ago (from the Dead Things to the Big Red Machine).

            The Oilers have begun to foster a winning environment in their AHL squad, and if it has to start someplace it may as well be in hockey preparatory school.

            It should also be taken into account that many of the players drafted were taken from junior squads that had enjoyed a modicum of success (slightly more than that in Hall’s case).

            But there is no arguing that the Oilers currently have a culture of winning. They have a tradition that is currently being imparted upon the youth, but that is a quiet echo for young ears.

          • RexLibris

            I think the evidence available to draw the conclusion that the draft is a good way to build is a team is strong enough to avoid falling into any logical flaws. Chicago, Boston, L.A., Detroit and Pittsburgh have all won recently and all of them were able to do so by relying heavily on their drafted and internally developed players.

            It begins, but does not end, there. A team obviously needs to complement their roster with good trades and signings.

            You can’t trade to acquire the kind of core players necessary to win. We know this in Edmonton, they know it in Calgary, Columbus, Toronto, and so on.

            In the Oilers case, specifically, because I think that is where we are headed here, they didn’t have anything to trade, they couldn’t attract free agents, and they didn’t have any prospects likely to become franchise players on their own.

            Feel free to disagree, and you may want to check out the Oilers Rebuild article that should be coming along in a few weeks.

            As for Philadelphia, I think I have said this until my avatar has turned blue in the face: they didn’t rebuild in 2007. They had a horrible season marred by injury, but the players they took in that year’s draft have had little or no impact on the team. Van Reimdsyk was supposed to be the big haul of that draft year for them and he has just been traded. How in any way is that a rebuild? The players that facilitated the Flyers return to the top of the standings were all in their system prior to that season or were trade acquisitions and free agent signings.

            What Philadelphia did in 2007 was re-tool, and they did it very poorly as their only player of note taken that year has just been moved for Luke Schenn.

            As for Dale Tallon, the Florida article is coming up next. In brief, he rushed the team back to mediocrity by taking advantage of two very unique circumstances: the availability of (and ability to sign) a deep well of free agents, and an already full stable of young prospects collected prior to his arrival.

            Neither of those examples are ones that should be considered viable models of management.

            I absolutely agree that the Leafs and Oilers are good opposing case studies.

            I wholeheartedly disagree that they bear striking similarities.

            You can take a look at the Leafs rebuilding article. It should outline my reasoning.

            Burke might have a slight advantage in the standings to date, but it is so slight as to be, frankly, somewhat detrimental in the long term, and if comparing the two franchises today, I think that the Oilers are far and away in a better place.

            It would be similar to comparing two recent high school graduates. One gets a job right out of school the other goes to post-secondary technical training or college. The earning power of the first is easily higher immediately. Forecasting ten years ahead, however, would indicate that the reverse will be true and likely by a significant margin.

            Thanks for reading. I’ll be very interested in your take on the Oilers article.

          • DSF

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply…a rarity.

            Let’s take a look at your underlying assumptions…that recent cup winners relied primarily on their internally drafted players.

            While that is quite true in the Pittsburgh and Chicago cases, there are some stark differences in the way the Bruins and Kings were built.

            The following players on the Bruins cup winning team were NOT drafted by the Bruins:

            Tim Thomas

            Zdeno Chara

            Michael Ryder

            Nathan Horton

            Mark Recchi

            Chris Kelly

            Rich Peverley

            Dennis Seidenberg

            Tomas Kaberle

            Andrew Ference

            Johnny Boychuk

            Daniel Paille

            Gregory Campbell

            Adam McQuaid

            Shawn Thornton

            Shane Hnidy

            Tukka Rask

            So, 18 of the players who made an appearance in the playoffs that season were acquired through trade or free agency.

            Only Krejci, Bergeron, Seguin and Marchand were actually Bruin draft choices.

            I don’t think you can successfully argue that the Bruins were built primarily through the draft.

            As for the Kings, I’ve actually been student of Lombardi’s strategy for several years and there are rather large differences between his approach and what we are seeing with the Oilers.

            In general terms, he is a believer in building from the back end out and up the middle, and, if you look at his draft strategy you will be able to confirm this.

            When taking over the Kings in 2006, he had an advantage in that his predecessors had already drafted Kopitar, Brown and Quick. But he followed that up by drafting another highly rated goaltender in Bernier and a raft of defensemen in Doughty, Voynov, Teubert, Hickey, Martinez and Forbort. (and traded for Jack Johnson)

            His strategy here was to collect as many assets as possible since not all of them would bloom (Teubert, Hickey) and use those assets to make changes elsewhere.

            Only after loading the system with G and D prospects did the Kings start drafting forwards in large numbers.

            He then set about locking up the players who he identified as his core and sent away a raft of veterans who he didn’t believe wee going to be a part of winning a cup, Visnovsky, Cammalleri, O’Sullivan, Frolov, Pressing, Handzus, Quincey, etc.

            In moving those players and some of his lower level prospects, he was also able to acquire a few others who become key members of the cup winning team, Stoll, Greene, Penner, Richards, Carter and then filled out the roster with solid vets in Mitchell, Scuderi and Williams.

            I guess you can argue that the Oilers are on a similar track by being in the acquiring assets phase but, unfortunately they are not building from the back end out and have spent several years acquiring mostly scoring wingers with their first round picks.

            They also are not using their veteran assets to acquire more young talent that will be around when the window to win opens.

            You can be sure than Lombardi would have traded Horcoff, Hemsky, Gagner and Whitney and would not have acquired Khabibulin, Smyth, Sutton,Belanger, Eager or Hordichuk.

            As for the Leafs/Oilers, conventional wisdom is that the Oilers are somehow on a better track and, in fact, you just confirmed it.

            “It would be similar to comparing two recent high school graduates. One gets a job right out of school the other goes to post-secondary technical training or college. The earning power of the first is easily higher immediately. Forecasting ten years ahead, however, would indicate that the reverse will be true and likely by a significant margin.”

            Your analogy falls apart right off the hop since there is so much chaos in hockey that forecasting 10 years down the road is a fool’s game. It is also specious in that there is more than one way to acquire talent in the NHL rather than just two choices that your analogy relies on.

            IMO, the Leafs and Oilers are very similar in that they both have unreliable goaltending, weak but developing defense, very questionable bottom 6 forwards and some high end top 6 talent.

            The Oilers have acquired their best players through the draft, but the Leafs IMO actually have an edge with the players they have acquired through other means.

            Kessel – Eberle

            Lupul – Hall

            Grabovski- Gagner

            Kulemin – Hemsky

            The Leafs don’t have an equivalent to Hopkins which is a widely recognized issue with the team and it seems Burke is going to try and slot JVR into that spot…should be interesting to see how that works out.

            So, going forward, I would think the Leafs have a slight edge in top 6 forward production at the moment but the Oilers will most likely move ahead in the short term.

            Bottom 6 forwards are likely a wash although you could make an argument that some of Lombardi, Frattin, Bozak and MacArthur would be good additions to the Oilers.

            Toronto has a much better defense pool IMO:

            Phaneuf (would be Oilers #1D)

            Gardiner (would be Oilers #2D)

            Liles (more reliable than Whitney)

            Gunnarsson (Smid equivalent)

            Franson

            Holzer

            Blacker

            Percy

            Reilly

            Finn

            The Leafs are still carrying Komisarek which is an issue but he’s certainly not much worse than Peckham and their prospects, Holzer, Blacker, Percy, Reilly and Finn, while no sure things, are all highly rated and at least the equivalent of Schultz, Klefbom, Marincin, Musil, Gernat and Teubert.

            As stated earlier, both teams have very large questions in goal so it will be interesting to see if Burke makes a move there…it appears the Oilers are going to ride Dubnyk and Khabibulin for the short term

            Look forward to your article.

          • RexLibris

            Whoa, thanks for taking the “longest post” crown off my head! 😉

            On L.A. – http://flamesnation.ca/2012/7/20/on-rebuilding-part-5-the-los-angeles-kings

            I look at how Lombardi gathered his players and in prepping for the article I read a couple of Jonathan Willis’ articles (and I think David Staples’ COH as well) contrasting the two.

            I agree that Lombardi took a different approach. But my stance is that every team has to find its own way.

            My analogy doesn’t present specious arguments, it is analogy, albeit an oversimplification, to illustrate the point of delayed returns.

            There are numerous ways to acquire talent. My analogy of schooling shouldn’t be taken literally as to suggest that I actually believe that it is an either/or situation.

            Some players a team usually has to draft. Others can be more easily acquired through trade, and still others can often be found by free agency. However, given the track record that, to use a common frame of reference, the Oilers had in the latter two pursuits between 2007 and 2010, a change of direction would have seemed to be in order.

            As for the Leafs, I would debate Kessel being equivalent to Eberle. I think perhaps that Eberle’s game offers less offensive upside (don’t ban me Wanye, please) but a more complete game away from the puck. Hall and Lupul just doesn’t add up, sorry. Gagner and Grabovski, perhaps. But I think Grabovski is likely a more innately talented player. Kulemin and Hemsky sounds plausible.

            I would take Dubnyk over Reimer, but given that they are goaltenders and I’m an Oilers fan, let’s just call it a wash between the two.

            As for the defence, the Leafs have it in spades. No question. It doesn’t mean that the Oilers’ have the worst blueline in the league, but it isn’t (yet) their area of strength.

            I’d still take the Oilers because at the very least they appear to have (as Lowetide would put it) a clearer stretch of blacktop ahead of them. That being said, if anyone can trade a useless pile of dross for a useful, or even impactful, player, it would be Burke. Flames fans know this well.

            Thanks!

          • DSF

            1) Don’t rely on either Willis or Staples for objectivity. It’s a foreign concept to both of them although Willis is coming around.

            2) Yes, each team has to find its own way but drafting alone has never been successful.

            3) Wingers are the easiest players to find through trade or free agency. The Oilers, for the most part, have shied away from drafting the hardest players to find, elite centres and top pairing D.

            4) Kessel is a better player than Eberle in ALL aspects of the game. That may change but Kessel has outperformed Eberle while facing tough competition.

            5) Until Hall can outscore Lupul while facing the toughs, Lupul wins.

            6) I agree on goaltending…it’s about the same…both teams need an upgrade.

            7) Burke IS smarter than Tambellini.

            8) You’re welcome.

          • Marshall Law

            Kessel is a better player than Eberle in all aspects of the game?

            Is it his inspiring defensive play that has you convinced? When the puck leaves the offensive zone, Phil takes a nap until his teammates can retrieve the puck for him. He had a much lower plus minus rating than Eberle while playing for a better team (-10 compared to Eberle’s +4).

            It must be his robust physical game that makes him a better player, right? When you’re clipping along at a pace of 12 hits per 82 games, it isn’t a stretch to say that the other team is less than intimidated when you step onto the ice.

            All that’s left is his offensive acumen: the element of the game that I assume puts Kessel a cut above the rest in your mind.

            Even there the argument falls short. The 2 players had nearly identical offensive seasons with Eberle playing a handful fewer games. While Kessel is indeed a sublime offensive talent, it can be argued that Eberle was his equal in only his second season in the league.

            If that doesn’t convince you, treat yourself to a Leafs-Bruins matchup next season. If Kessel is brave enough to even touch the puck, I’ll give you 20 bucks.

        • Wax Man Riley

          I know what you mean about 2003. Must be a pretty bad scouting group that couldn’t come out with a player out of that group.

          Imagine! A team picking a player like… oh… lets say Marc Pouliot over players like Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards or Corey Perry. You would have to have been a buffoon.

          **goes back and looks at Oilers 2003 draft, then crawls back under the covers in the fetal position**

          • RexLibris

            Marc Pouliot made Sydney Crosby tick. That’s what Kevin Prendergast told me.

            I’m torn over the fact that Hockey Canada has a wealth of talent available to it that is almost embarrassing (Seguin, Crosby, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Hall, Duchene, P.K. Subban, Weber, Skinner, MacKinnon, Reinhart (Griffin and Sam), so on and so forth) and yet they have Prendergast in the fold making scouting decisions for some of their teams.

            Like tying an Arabian thoroughbred to a plow.

    • RexLibris

      I try to steer away from hindsight drafting. Re-drafting, or at the least re-seeding, a group of draft prospects has value in that it can expose certain organization blind spots and industry biases over time, but if Detroit was so smart to draft Datsyuk why did they wait so long?

      I usually take a look at players who were drafted and those who were taken within three spots as a sort of range of considerations. Outside of that, it is simply an academic exercise.

      Looking over the Oilers drafting and missed opportunities is a good way to get started on some liver cyrrhosis. You’d need a lot of liquor to forget their screw ups.

    • supra steve

      You can do that with just about any team. Try your hand at the Oilers for one.

      btw, Brule was considered a hell of a prospect. If you don’t remember he dominated the western league and is still considered the best Giant to have ever played for the club.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    They were picking close to the consensus in most of those drafts so there is some bad luck here.
    When you pick Filatov out of Russia with not seeing him a lot you have to believe blindly in your scouting.Other than Leclaire that was the only other really bad pick they made

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    They were picking close to the consensus in most of those drafts so there is some bad luck here.
    When you pick Filatov out of Russia with not seeing him a lot you have to believe blindly in your scouting.Other than Leclaire that was the only other really bad pick they made

  • MC Hockey

    I disagree with all of you…so call me crazy (or “Call me, maybe” if you like pop music), but I honestly think that Columbus’ draft pattern over the years is not that bad. I will justify that below but the more VITAL point is that it is more disappointing that the have an inability to KEEP all their best draft picks.

    The reasons the Jackets picks are not terrible are:

    A. Two near or true superstars in Nash (now in NYR) and Zherdev (in KHL).
    B. Two more solid guys in Brassard (stayed) and Voracek (Phi).
    C. Three others who MAY make something of themselves over time, specifically I mean the following:
    1. The very young 22-year old Nikita Filatov (after a possible return from the KHL).
    2. Alexander Picard (the LW with that name, not the D-man) who won MVP of the AHL playoffs in June…he has time to become a 3rd-4th liner.
    3. Gilbert Brule (after a return from Switzerland in a few years)

    Remember, it’s NOT only goalies who may take more-than-3 years to mature, I could see any of those guys being NHL-ers in future…like other late bloomers such as Matt Moulson or P.A. Parenteau.

  • Wax Man Riley

    There is way too much emphasis placed on drafting one guy instead of another. That over-simplifies hockey management into something we could all do using a video game simulator.

    Success from the draft comes from more than just making a pick, it’s about developing an amateur prospect into a professional NHL player. That takes a lot of skill from an entire organization of coaches, trainers, teammates and general management, which is something Detroit and New Jersey have figured out but Columbus and Long Island haven’t.

    Maybe Columbus made the right draft picks, but set them up to fail?

    • RexLibris

      I would agree with that.

      Drafting the right player is step one, but developing him and bringing him along in the best way possible is equally important.

      The Red Wings do this job very well, and it is in this regard that I think the Oilers are trying to mimic them.

      In order to do this, though, one needs good players on the team to start, then those players can help mentor and shelter the other prospects as they graduate to the NHL.

      This is why I have argued that what will become vitally important to the Oilers’ success in their long-term goals is that Stu MacGregor and his staff continue to find hidden talents in the draft (sweet lord I hope their draft status changes soon) in order to prevent any fatal gaps from appearing in the development chain.

      If the core is to be locked up long-term then the team will need value contracts in the supporting cast (I think there have been quite a few articles on this over at Copper and Blue, Lowetide, and OilersNation, recently, Robin Brownlee’s in particular) and the best way of doing that is to draft and develop internally.

      This is why I am excited about players like Pelss, Gernat, Reider, and Moroz. The prospects and players ahead of them may move on if/when the team finds success and their contract negotiations begin to reflect playing with a talented core.

      In Columbus’ case, though, I think they overlooked the development step. Brule would be the most obvious example, but there have been a host of other players rushed in to the league because management was too impatient with their plan. Give full credit to Tambellini, a rebuild can go off the rails so easily. Patience is key and he has shown an agonizing talent for it.

  • Pat Hughes ruled

    The abyss the Oilers have drafted still remains entrenched in bottom of league . Isles and Colombus are maybe bad , but we are still worse if we remain again at bottom of league to be honest . Our results still tilt major failure until team proves otherwise . Can we compete with basically only elite young forwards ? I say yes very reluctantly , as other clubs keep getting better and bigger faster than us . Mine may be more homerism and hope than reality . Another season of failed results could mean a major shakeup in management , which might not be such a bad thing .

  • Pat Hughes ruled

    An Oiler writer is criticizing another team’s draft record? Discussing questionable free agent signings…Except for one year how well have the Oilers done? We are fostering a winning tradition here. 30 30 29….. That in Oilerville gets you a 3 year extension.

    Doug M and Mike M both have found work as experts and have the gonads to criticize current GM’s moves. Sportsnet also continues to employ Louie D as a commentator for the Oilers. We can see that hiring expectations for experts and commentators is very high.